GRAND RAPIDS — Approximately 700 men and women from 14 states attended a five-day training in wildland fire fighting at the Minnesota Wildfire Academy held at Itasca Community College last week. This was the 19th year the school has hosted the training which is organized by the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) based in Grand Rapids. Students of various wildland fire-fighting skills acquire detailed training from 23 course options ranging from basic firefighter to upper levels of wildfire command.
Some of the courses included practice with drip torches, setting up hose lays, cutting fire lines, basic pump skills, practice in tree felling, chainsaw safety in the field, medical evacuation and more. Students also triaged homes in the Horseshoe Addition as part of the Wildland Urban Interface Training.
The training is one of three held throughout the country each year. As students complete the training, they work toward obtaining their Incident Qualification Card, commonly known as a Red Card. This is accepted interagency certification required for responding to a wildfire incident.
The National Wildfire Coordinating Group sets minimum training, experience and physical fitness standards for wildland fire positions. Red Cards are issued to individuals who successfully complete the required training, experience, and work capacity test by the firefighting agencies.
A crew leader and instructor at the training last week, Stacy Troumbly, 36, is originally from Coleraine and currently works with the Superior National Forest. She was teaching the basic fire fighting class.
“Earlier in the week we did classroom training, now we’re in the field,” said Troumbly on Thursday. “With hands-on, people remember 90% of what they’re taught. So field work is important because most of our students are brand new.”
Troumbly started in wildland fire fighting in 2006 because she was looking for an interesting job in a tough market at the time. She says more and more women are joining the career, which is still very male-dominated. After working her first fire which was a “very large fire” in Colorado that spread across 600 acres, it got into her blood.
The best part of her job, said Troumbly, is working outside and traveling the country.
A young woman from Washington D.C., Kevyn Richmond agreed. She works as a seasonal wilderness ranger in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the summer and was enrolled in the academy to earn her Red Card.
“I think this is really great experience,” said Richmond, who was surprised to learn how often wildland firefighters use fire to suppress fire. “This is an important resource and tool. Through my job as a ranger up north, we do prescribed burning. With my Red Card, I’ll have the knowledge to help on national forest burns.”
Cooperating agencies on last week’s training included the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, the Minnesota Fire Chiefs Association, the Minnesota State Fire Marshall, Department of Public Safety, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Itasca Community College, University of Minnesota, Minnesota North Central Research and Outreach Center, and Visit Grand Rapids.
The MNICS Team, Incident Commander for the academy was Mike Aultman and Deputy Incident Commander was Aaron Mielke.